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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Jack Glover heard footsteps coming down the path, and turned to meet a man who had "detective" written largely all over him. Jack turned and looked down again at the body as the man came up.
"Who is this?" asked the officer sharply.
"It is James Meredith," said Jack simply.
"Dead?" said the officer, startled. "He has committed suicide!"
Jack did not reply, and watched the inspector as he made his brief, quick examination of the body. A bullet had entered just below the left temple, and there was a mark of powder near the face.
"A very bad business, Mr. Glover," said the police officer seriously. "Can you account for this man being here?"
"He came to get married," said Jack listlessly. "I dare say that startles you, but it is the fact. He was married less than ten minutes ago. If you will come up to the house I will explain his presence here."
The detective hesitated, but just then another of his comrades came on the scene, and Jack led the way back to the house through a back door into Rennett's study.
The lawyer was waiting for them, and he was alone.
"If I'm not very much mistaken, you're Inspector Colhead, of Scotland Yard," said Glover.
"That is my name," nodded the officer. "Between ourselves, Mr. Glover, I don't think I should make any statement which you are not prepared to verify publicly."
Jack noted the significance of the warning with a little smile, and proceeded to tell the story of the wedding.
"I can only tell you," he said in answer to a further inquiry, "that Mr. Meredith came into this house at a quarter to eight this morning, and surrendered himself to my partner. At eight o'clock exactly, as you are well aware, Mr. Rennett telephoned to Scotland Yard to say that Mr. Meredith was here. During the period of his waiting he was married."
"Did a parson happen to be staying here, sir?" asked the police officer sarcastically.
"He happened to be staying here," said Jack calmly, "because I had arranged for him to be here. I knew that if it was humanly possible, Mr. Meredith would come to this house, and that his desire was to be married, for reasons which my partner will explain."
"Did you help him to escape? That is asking you a leading question," smiled the detective.
Jack shook his head.
"I can answer you with perfect truth that I did not, any more than the Home Secretary helped him when he gave him permission to go to a nursing home."
Soon after the detective returned to the shed, and Jack and his partner were left alone.
"Well?" said Rennett, in a shaking voice, "what happened?"
"He's dead," said Jack quietly.
Jack looked at him oddly.
"Did Bulford commit suicide?" he asked.
"Where is the angel?"
"I left her in the drawing-room with Mrs. Rennett and Miss Beale."
"Mrs. Meredith," corrected Jack quietly.
"This complicates matters," said Rennett, "but I think we can get out of our share of the trouble, though it is going to look a little black."
They found the three women in the drawing-room. Lydia, looking very white, came to meet them.
"What happened?" she asked, and then she guessed from his face. "He's not dead?" she gasped.
Jack nodded. All the time his eyes were on the other girl. Her beautiful lips were drooped a little. There was a look of pain and sorrow in her eyes that caught his breath.
"Did he shoot himself?" she asked in a low voice.
Jack regarded her coldly.
"The only thing that I am certain about," and Lydia winced at the cruelty in his voice, "is that you did not shoot him, Miss Briggerland."
"How dare you!" flamed Jean Briggerland. The quick flush that came to her cheek was the only other evidence of emotion she betrayed.
"I dare say a lot," said Jack curtly. "You asked me if it is a case of suicide, and I tell you that it is not--it is a case of murder. James Meredith was found with a revolver clutched in his right hand. He was shot through the left temple, and if you'll explain to me how any man, holding a pistol in a normal way, can perform that feat, I will accept your theory of suicide."
There was a dead silence.
"Besides," Jack went on, with a little shrug, "poor Jimmy had no pistol."
Jean Briggerland had dropped her eyes, and stood there with downcast head and compressed lips. Presently she looked up.
"I know how you feel, Mr. Glover," she said gently. "I can well understand, believing such dreadful things about me as you do, that you must hate me."
Her mouth quivered and her voice grew husky with sorrow.
"I loved James Meredith," she said, "and he loved me."
"He loved you well enough to marry somebody else," said Jack Glover, and Lydia was shocked.
"Mr. Glover," she said reproachfully, "do you think it is right to say these things, with poor Mr. Meredith lying dead?"
He turned slowly toward her, and she saw in his humorous eyes a hardness that she had not seen before.
"Miss Briggerland has told us that I hate her," he said in an even voice, "and she spoke nothing but the truth. I hate her perhaps beyond understanding--Mrs. Meredith." He emphasised the words, and the girl winced. "And one day, if the Circumstantialists spare me----"
"The Circumstantialists," said Jean Briggerland slowly. "I don't quite understand you."
Jack Glover laughed, and it was not a pleasant laugh.
"Perhaps you will," he said shortly. "As to your loving poor Jim--well, you know best. I am trying to be polite to you, Miss Briggerland, and not to gloat over the fact that you arrived too late to stop this wedding! And shall I tell you why you arrived too late?" His eyes were laughing again. "It was because I had arranged with the vicar of St. Peter's to be here at nine o'clock this morning, well knowing that you and your little army of spies would discover the hour of the wedding, and would take care to be here before. And then I secretly sent for an old Oxford friend of mine to be here at eight--he was here last night."
Still she stood regarding him without visible evidence of the anger which Lydia thought would have been justified.
"I had no desire to stop the wedding," said the girl, in a low, soft voice. "If Jim preferred to be married in this way to somebody who does not know him, I can only accept his choice." She turned to the girl and held out her hand. "I am very sorry that this tragedy has come to you, Mrs. Meredith," she said. "May I wish you a greater happiness than any you have found?"
Lydia was touched by the sincerity, hurt a little by Glover's uncouthness, and could only warmly grip the little hand that was held out to her.
"I'm sorry too," she said a little unsteadily. "For you more than for--anything else."
The girl lowered her eyes and again her lips quivered, and then without a word she walked out of the room, pulling her sable wrap about her throat.
It was noon before Rennett's car deposited Lydia Meredith at the door of her lodging.
She found Mrs. Morgan in a great state of anxiety, and the stout little woman almost shed tears of joy at the sight of her.
"Oh, miss, you've no idea how worried I've been," she babbled, "and they've been round here from your newspaper office asking where you are. I thought you had been run over or something, and the Daily Megaphone have sent to all the hospitals----"
"I have been run over," said Lydia wearily. "My poor mind has been under the wheels of a dozen motor-buses, and my soul has been in a hundred collisions."
Mrs. Morgan gaped at her. She had no sense of metaphor.
"It's all right, Mrs. Morgan," laughed her lodger over her shoulder as she went up the stairs. "I haven't really you know, only I've had a worrying time--and by the way, my name is Meredith."
Mrs. Morgan collapsed on to a hall chair.
"Meredith, miss?" she said incredulously. "Why I knew your father----"
"I've been married, that's all," said Lydia grimly. "You told me yesterday that I should be married romantically, but even in the wildest flights of your imagination, Mrs. Morgan, you could never have supposed that I should be married in such a violent, desperate way. I'm going to bed." She paused on the landing and looked down at the dumbfounded woman. "If anybody calls for me, I am not at home. Oh, yes, you can tell the Megaphone that I came home very late and that I've gone to bed, and I'll call to-morrow to explain."
"But, miss," stammered the woman, "your husband----"
"My husband is dead," said the girl calmly. She felt a brute, but somehow she could not raise any note of sorrow. "And if that lawyer man comes, will you please tell him that I shall have twenty thousand pounds in the morning," and with that last staggering statement, she went to her room, leaving her landlady speechless.